Philippians 4:10-23 – Are You “Comfort”-Able?

Mark Wheeler
August 31, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Philippians 4:10-23
Are You “Comfort”-Able?

Sovereign God, in Your mighty acts You reveal Your justice and truth. We sing Your praises, for You bring down tyrants and raise the poor from the dust. May Your Son be our confidence and comfort, our strength, as You judge the world with righteousness. Amen.

This week I read a story about a Russian couple who lived in a small hut with their two children. The husband’s parents lost their home and so the couple invited them to move in with them. This was a small hut that now housed 4 adults and 2 children. It seemed unbearable to the wife, so she went to the village wise man to seek his advice.
The wise man’s solution to the problem was to bring their dog into the house with them, and come back in a week. But, of course, the situation only got worse. A week later the wife went back to the wise man and complained that it was not better. He told her to bring their chickens into the house and come back in a week.
Well, you can imagine. By the next week this poor wife was pulling her hair out. So when she went back to the wise man, he told her to bring the cow into the house and come back in a week. Unbearable turned into desperate which became miserable which escalated to torturous.
So the wise man said, “OK, now remove the cow, and take the chickens out, put the dog in the yard, and come back in a week.” By now the little hut seems like a mansion and these 4 adults and 2 children were happy and contented!

Contentment almost always seems elusive, doesn’t it? We think, if I just had this one more thing, then I’d be content – but it never stops with just one more thing.
This is not just a 21st Century American problem. It seems the New Testament people 2 millennia ago, across the globe, struggled with it, too. The desire for more money, for more prestige, for more free time, for more respect, for a little love….

This Summer our sermon series comes to us from Paul’s prison epistle to the Christian fellowship in Philippi. We have already seen that even though Paul was under house-arrest and could have remembered how hard life had been in Philippi, he chose instead to be thankful for all the ways God works good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).
Today we read from Philippians 4:10-23, where we’ll find the apostle Paul living in complete contentment – joy even. He will give us three keys to discovering this comfort, and being strong in the Lord because of it. Listen to God’s Word from Philippians 4:10-23…. —-
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
21 Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus. The brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings. 22 All God’s people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.
23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

In stark contrast to our world, our contemporary world and the world of Paul’s day, Paul found contentment and comfort – while chained to a Roman guard in jail, he teaches us three keys to being “comfort”-able. (We can probably see more than these three, but we will concentrate on these today.

Before we begin looking at Paul’s direct teaching to us here, let me remind you, first, of the Good News, we see all through this short letter.
The Heidelberg Catechism of 1562 asks, “What is your only COMFORT in life and in death?” And it answers, “That we BELONG—body and soul, in life and in death—not to ourselves but to our faithful Savior, JESUS CHRIST.” Remember that Good News!

First Key to being “Comfort”-able: Get/Stay connected to Jesus Christ. Verse 13 says, “I can do all this through HIM who gives me STRENGTH.”
Remember that the word for “strength” has the same root as the word for “comfort”. Where does Paul find “comfort”? “From HIM who gives [him] STRENGTH!”
Paul may have heard some of the original 12 apostles remind each other that Jesus had said, “without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5); and “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27).
He might have remembered his own experience and teaching to the Church in Corinth when he wrote, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God!” (II Corinthians 3:5). Paul knows that our comfort and contentment is found in the fact that we belong to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ!
In fact, he just wrote in Philippians 3:10, that all things pale in comparison to knowing Christ!
Paul reminds Timothy, in II Timothy 4, that there is no circumstance ever that we could possibly face that Jesus could not provide the power to overcome. I just read a Facebook post from a friend quoting Louie Giglio, an astrophysicist and evangelist, who tells a man facing problems he does not how to cope with, that God looks at us in those situations and says, “Dude, I got this; I created galaxies!”
God promises, that in all our life’s troubles, He “will never leave you, nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
Get/Stay connected to Jesus Christ.

Second Key to being “Comfort”-able: Get/Stay connected with the Body of Christ/the Church. Verse 14 says, “it was good of you to share in my TROUBLES.”
Notice that we are not promised a trouble-free life. No one can make that promise. But we are promised strength to get through the troubles.
Paul talked about the Philippian Church’s generosity, their cooperation, and their effort.
Their generosity was like a budding tree (verse 10) flourishing and healthy; it was a spiritual investment from which future fruit would abound (verse 17); and it was like a sweet-smelling sacrifice, a fragrant offering, pleasing to the Lord (verse 18). No church is perfect in this way, but the story of this church being generous to the Rogers High School football team is a story of biblical proportion – like a budding tree, from which future fruit will produce, and of which the Lord is greatly pleased!
Their cooperation shared in Paul’s physical distress, and provided for him in ways no one else had. And by doing that, they were credited in sharing with Paul’s Gospel work, his work for God’s kingdom purposes! Again, our cooperation with several other RHS neighborhood churches allowed us to bring the entire football squad, freshman thru varsity teams, to share together in an entertaining and inspiring evening at the movies.
And the Philippian Church did not stop just because it was a challenge. They persevered and gave their best effort to be/stay connected with the true Church of Jesus Christ! May we stay connected to the true Church of Jesus Christ!

Third Key to being “Comfort”-able: Get/Stay confident in God’s provision; proclaim “the riches of God’s GLORY in Christ Jesus” (verse 19).
Notice how personally Paul says this: “My God will meet all your needs.” Not that Paul owns God, but that Paul belongs—body and soul, in life and in death—to God. And the proclamation is that this Almighty God, our heavenly Father, will meet all our NEEDS! A colleague reminds us, he said “our needs, not our greeds”!
Paul says, in Ephesians, that God provides “immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine”.
And he says that the source is “according to the riches of His glory”. Not “out of the riches”; not “from the left-overs of His riches”. The word “according to” in this sentence implies that the well cannot run dry – there is no limit! All of His riches are available to His children.
Get/Stay confident in God’s provision! And tell your stories to the people around you.

There’s a story about William Randolph Hearst, the famous and extremely wealthy newspaper magnate from the late 1800s until he died in 1951. He was a collector of rare and unusual artifacts. The story says that there was one item he desperately wanted to own, so he hired an agent to locate the item and make bids on it until it would be his. It took months of searching, but the agent finally found this rare object … in one of Hearst’s own warehouses! The treasure he so desperately desired was already his!

If it is contentment we seek – we do already possess it in Jesus Christ! Are you “comfort”-able? Your strength is available – it is already yours, in Jesus Christ.

As we move into our time of prayer, with Kathy leading us in prayer, let me start simply by praying for anyone in the room with us this morning who is grasping for that peace that passes understanding, that contentment beyond what we own, that only comfort in life and in death that comes from knowing we belong—body and soul—not to ourselves but to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Resources:
Neill, Greg; The Joy of Contentment; Marble Falls Church of Christ; Marble Falls, TX; March 2005.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 460.

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Philippians 4:1-9; Rejoice in Your “Comfort” Zone

Mark Wheeler
August 24, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Philippians 4:1-9
Rejoice in Your “Comfort” Zone

Faithful and compassionate God, we know that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Enable us to see with eyes of faith beyond a broken and hurting world that You are sovereign, and to believe with trusting hearts that You are undeniably good. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

What do you think of when you hear something about someone being in their comfort zone, or getting out of their comfort zone?
Usually this phrase is used as a challenge: We must get out of our comfort zone and boldly go where no one has gone before!
The term is almost redundant all by itself. It is when someone is “in their zone” that they are most comfortable. When Felix Hernandez is in his zone, for instance, the Mariners cannot be beat. When Felix Hernandez is “not in his zone”, you can bet he is most uncomfortable.
When I was in Little League, in my 3rd and 4th and 5th years, I was a nearly unstoppable sidearm pitcher – All Stars 3 years in a row – and undefeated (that’s how I remember it, anyhow)! But there was one game when I could not throw a strike! Ball after ball after ball. After I had walked the 4th run in my coach came out to talk with me, and in tears I begged to stay in for one more batter. I walked him. I was not “in my zone” and I was not, at all, comfortable. Fortunately, our team had batted in several more runs than I had walked, so we still won the game.
My coach never stopped believing in me, and he told me how proud he was that I stayed in for one more batter, but he wisely took me out of the game and sent in a relief pitcher.
That was a hard game, but those were happy, dream-filled days.

We tend to equate “happiness” with joy, but they are two totally different ideas each springing from a different source. One comes from the world around us. The other originates directly from the Spirit of the Living God. Happiness is conditioned by and often dependent upon what is “happening” to us. If people treat me well, if things are going well in my life, if I am winning, if I am pitching sidearm strikes, then I’m happy. If my circumstances aren’t favorable, then I’m unhappy – that describes me throwing nothing but “ball fours”!
Joy, on the other hand, throbs throughout Scripture as a profound, compelling quality of life that transcends the events and disasters which may dog God’s people. Joy is a divine dimension of living that is not shackled by circumstances. The Hebrew word means, “to leap or spin around with pleasure.” In the New Testament, the word refers to “gladness, bliss and celebration.”

Today we read from Philippians 4, a piece of Paul’s prison epistle to the Christian fellowship in Philippi that resounds with “joy” in the midst of struggle. Listen to God’s Word from Philippians 4:1-9…. —-
1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Today I am going to challenge you to NOT leave your comfort zone, but to make your comfort zone work for you!
Some of you might remember that a few weeks back I introduced the 16th century Heidelberg Catechism to you – this Reformation Era statement of faith in Q and A format. Question 1 asks, “What is your only comfort, in life and in death?” And Answer 1 is, “That I belong—body and soul, in life and in death—not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ….”
And in that study we learned that the root meaning of the word “comfort” is “strength”. That is why a “fort” is called a “stronghold”. Now, let me challenge you again. Do NOT leave your comfort zone. Not this week, anyway. Stay in your zone. Where you find joy and are able to rejoice – even if/when life throws curveballs you cannot hit – or that hit you! Rejoice in your “comfort” zone. Rejoice in your strength.

So how do we recognize our true “comfort zone”? It is not, necessarily, when you pitch nothing but strikes. What my coach reminded me of during that horribly bad game was that our team was still ahead! Not because of my excellent pitching – far from it. No, we were ahead because I was not alone on that team!
That is still true today. We are not alone! Not only do we have each other, for which we might be extremely grateful – but we have God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Last Thursday our Bible class in Mark 10 discovered Jesus telling the crowds and the disciples that we need to recognize our own helplessness in earning our salvation – like babies we cannot save ourselves – even the “rich, young, ruler” was told to sell everything and give the money away so that he, too, could see that he was helpless to save himself!
Paul understood that it was in his own weakness that he experienced God’s ultimate strength! (“But [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” II Corinthians 12:9)

And notice, too, the connection between “joy” and “peace”. Happiness often brings with it a lack of peace – for fear of losing that which brought the happiness. But joy is always accompanied by peace.
Today’s third paragraph begins with the imperative to rejoice (again, I say, rejoice!); and ends with the promise that the “peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Some people fret and worry about everything under the sun – and if they can find nothing to fret or worry about they make stuff up – and others experience nothing but peace all the time! What do you think is the difference? It is not their life circumstances – for I have known down and outers, sick and dying, in the depths of hardship who are at peace; and I have known wealthy, healthy, easy-lifers who fret over every possible thing!
In Galatians 5 Paul lists what he calls the Fruit of the Spirit, and he lists them as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” The top three? Love, joy, and peace!
To have the fruit of joy ripen in our lives is to recognize the journey involved in getting there. It takes time, diligence, patience, and hard work – but the result is peace that passes understanding (down in my heart).

I have given you the challenge to remain in your “comfort” zone, and rejoice there. But you need something to take with you today – application steps, action steps, so you’ll know you are in your “comfort” zone.
These are the bullet points on the bottom of your Sermon Notes page.
• “Be of the same mind in the Lord” – guard against joy BUSTERS! Paul names names here: Euodia and Syntyche, two women who were at odds with one-another. Guard yourself against those joy busters that crash into your life like a tidal wave. Be vigilant. Ask someone to hold you accountable so that you learn the secret of contentment, so that you keep short accounts with people, and to help you get into the habit of regular confession of your sins.

• Identify one joy builder that you need to work on. Pick one that is weak for you and bring it into your comfort zone:
o Recognize God as JOYFUL! He is a joyful God!
o Worship God for His qualities, His attributes, His character traits.
o Allow Jesus to take your problems from you!
o Remain close to Jesus – every day, every moment.
• Read through the entire book of Philippians every day this week (it is like 3 pages long!). Highlight the words “joy” and “rejoice” every time you see it. And ask God to ripen this fruit of joy in your own life.

Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)

In closing, let’s allow Romans 14:17 to penetrate our lives: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

Let us rejoice in our “comfort” zones! Amen.

Resources:
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 458.

Wheeler, Mark; “Being in CommUNITY”; Ledger; Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church; August 2014.

Philippians 3: Complete Joy in God through Christ

Mark Wheeler
August 17, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Philippians 3:1-21
Complete Joy in God through Christ!

You, O Lord, have placed Your hand upon us. We need not run from You in shame. You, O Christ, have placed Your life within us. Our lives will not end in isolation or obscurity. You, O Holy Spirit, are nurturing Your passion within us. Turn us from vanity and reckless desire. Father, Son, and Spirit, we give You thanks and praise. Amen.

This weekend marks joy and happiness in the lives of at least 6 different individuals connected to this church, and when you count their closest family members, many of whom are also connected to this church, that number goes up to a couple dozen (that’s one-third of the attendance this morning). What’s so special about this weekend?
Today is the one-year anniversary of Melissa and KJ (Tufto) Halvorsen, and exactly 52 weeks ago was the wedding of Jake and Ashley Davis, and this evening is the wedding day for John and Rebecca Roger-Hirst. (That is why most of you have bulletin covers with “wedding” scenes.)
Wedding days are among the most joyous of celebrations! (Babies are right up there!)
So, we celebrate with Kelly and Melissa, and with Jake and Ashley, and with John and Rebecca! And those of us who are married, or who have been married, we remember our wedding days, most of us with a deep sense of joy and gratitude.
But the wedding day, we all know, is no guarantee of “happily ever after”. In fact John and Rebecca enter their wedding today with the harsh reality that John just attended his mother’s funeral on Thursday! Where’s the joy in that?! And for both of them, this is their second marriage – their firsts not being what they had anticipated.
Last week, some of you will remember, we read where Paul said we must “work out our salvation in fear and trembling”. We enter marriages in a little fear and trembling, too.

This Summer our sermon series comes to us from Paul’s prison epistle to the fellowship in Philippi. We have already seen that even though Paul was under house-arrest and could have remembered how hard life had been in Philippi, he chose instead to be thankful for all the ways God works good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). This letter is so filled with different forms of the word “joy” that it is often called the “Joy Epistle”.

Today we read from Philippians 3, where we’ll learn something about complete joy coming to us by no other means than by Jesus. Listen to God’s Word from Philippians 3:1-21…. —-
1 Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

I have a few friends that preach whole chapters every week – and they take most of a whole hour to do it; but this is gonna be like your wedding day – quick and easy, with a one-point sermon, and then on to testimonies and prayers.
There are probably a half-dozen different sermons I could easily preach from these 21 verses, but I am giving you the clearest, most straightforward message I can.
That message is: the only way to discover complete joy is in a living relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ, and it is enhanced in and through and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Wedding days, admittedly, are good! They represent the second most important decisions we will ever make (probably); the first is to follow Christ!

Cory Vawter, a former member here who now lives on Cheney, gave the following post on his Facebook page last Friday. This is a very familiar quote, but it’s one that no one really knows who said it first. Here it is: “Joy is not the absence of sorrow, but the presence of God; so we ask not that He calm the storm, but that He walk with us through it.”
If joy were defined simply as the absence of sorrow, then Paul would have no words of joy to send to the Philippians. Instead, though his hands were chained, his heart was free. Paul knows that joy is not the absence of sorrow. No, joy is found in the presence of the Lord who is with him in the midst of his sorrow.

In today’s world of Smart Phones, tablets and instant Internet access, we can “know” almost anything in an instant. If someone asks the question, “how much concrete is in the Grand Coulee Dam,” a nimble-thumbed person with a 4G connection and an iPhone can ask Siri, “How much concrete is in the Grand Coulee Dam?” and they will get an almost instantaneous response of 11,975,521 cubic yards (I know, I tried it). But if we had sitting here a 100 year old retired construction worker that spent 5 years of his life building the Grand Coulee Dam 75 years earlier we would still get the right information, but we would also get it with great passion!
When we went to Mt. Rushmore a few years ago we got to meet one of the “carvers”. Passion in every sentence!
That’s what it means to “know Christ and the power of His resurrection.” It involves much more than repeating facts concerning Christ or the Bible. Knowing Christ is an intimate relationship with Him that changes everything.

Jake and Ashley learned that 52 weeks ago, on a different level, with each other; Melissa and Kelly discovered new passion in their relationship one year ago; John and Rebecca will start a new venture of joy and gratitude in about 5½ hours after they say their “I do”s.

But if any of them believe that their marriages will bring them nothing but joy and happiness, allow them to talk to a wife who just lost her husband, or a husband whose wife aches with pain.
Paul wants us to know, with passion, through the power of the Holy Spirit and by the gift of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, that our only comfort in life or in death is that we belong—body and soul, in life and in death—not to ourselves but to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. Paul wants us to know that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Paul wants us to know that the only means of finding complete joy is in God through Jesus Christ.

Complete joy is ours for the taking – not based on our life circumstances, but based solely on our relationship with God through the gift of His Son Jesus Christ our Savior – our only comfort in life and in death.

If you have lost the joy of the Lord, get it back this morning! Make a conscious decision that you are going to follow Christ. The only way to have complete joy is to turn what does not make you joyous over to the Lord.
Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)
We have to remain close to Jesus! I read a guy who says it this way, “Joy suckers do not like to be around Jesus, so stay close to Jesus! ‘Remain in me, and I will remain in you’, that is Jesus’ promise!”

Resources:
Book of Confessions, Presbyterian Church (USA); 4.001, 7.001.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 447.

Philippians 2:12-30; It Is God Who Works – So Rejoice!

Mark Wheeler
August 10, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Philippians 2:12-30
It Is God Who Works – So Rejoice!

You, O Lord, have placed Your hand upon us. We need not run from You in shame. You, O Christ, have placed Your life within us. Our lives will not end in isolation or obscurity. You, O Holy Spirit, are nurturing Your passion within us. Turn us from vanity and reckless desire. Father, Son, and Spirit, we give You thanks and praise. Amen.

Last week our church met at Harmon Park with a half-dozen other churches to help celebrate the Hillyard Festival and to bring the Word of God beyond our doors into the open-air of a big community event. One of the most exciting parts of this Worship in the Park is the opportunity to show our outside neighbors that these other churches are not only not our competition, but they are our family – we actually love each other.
Could you imagine how much work it would be to do what we did last Sunday all by ourselves? On our budget, and with our resources, impossible. But with God leading the way, and our ecclesiastical extended family at our side, not only does it become possible, it was amazing!

This Summer our sermon series comes to us from Paul’s prison epistle to the fellowship in Philippi. We have already seen that even though Paul was under house-arrest and could have remembered how hard life had been in Philippi, he chose instead to be thankful for all the ways God works good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). This letter is so filled with different forms of the word “joy” that it is often called the “Joy Epistle”.
Today we read from Philippians 2, a piece of Paul’s letter that challenges our real acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior by challenging our response to life’s circumstances. Listen to God’s Word from Philippians 2:12-30 ….—-
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20 I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23 I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. 24 And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.
25 But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. 26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. 29 So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, 30 because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.

Did you catch the challenge? Right at the start: “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”.
Wait, what? Wheeler, you have been telling us for nigh unto 20 years now that we humans cannot earn or deserve our salvation no matter how hard we work!
Every month when we gather at the Communion Table, as we are about to do this morning, I remind this congregation that we are not invited to this Table because we are so good that God wants to reward us with an invite – we are here simply because God loves us so much that He gave His only begotten Son – and He invites us to His Table so we can re-experience the trauma and the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection, the anxiety and the ecstasy of eternal life offered us through faith.
But today we read where Paul says we have to work out our salvation in fear and trembling? Something’s not right!
Let me shed a little light on this challenge. The verse starts with a reminder of this church’s obedience to the Scriptures, their faithful obedience to Christ’s commands (see Matthew 28:20). Now, in the midst of their hardships and persecutions, Paul challenges them to remain faithfully obedient (continue to work out), and reminds them that even their desire, let alone their ability to be obedient, is God who works in [them] to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Have you ever heard someone say (maybe you have said, or still say this yourself) that the main reason they don’t want to become a Christian is that there are just too many rules. “I still want to have fun. I want to do what I want to do, not have a whole new set of ‘laws’ to follow.”
When I did a lot of youth ministry and youth outreach, this is the pushback I got from kids – and then I realized that I still get it from full-grown adults, and seniors. What we don’t realize at first – and Church, this is our job to help people realize – is that following Christ is the most exciting and thrill-seeking lifestyle out there, and it honors God and serves humanity at the same time!
John Ortberg, a well known Christian author and pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in CA, once said it this way: “Spiritual growth doesn’t mean a life of doing what I should do instead of what I want to do. It means coming to want to do what I should do.”
I used to tell my youth that amazingly, what I want to do changes – and now I actually can do whatever I want – and it’s legal and no one gets hurt.
That wasn’t terribly convincing, but we can show its truth simply by being joyful, joy-filled! And God does the work to get us there! We just have to let Him, then working out our salvation becomes second nature!

Full disclosure time. I fail at this every day! Every day I realize that what I want to do is to fall into temptation and do something that does not honor God or follow Christ or serve humanity. That’s where Paul’s challenge to continue to work out, with fear and trembling, comes in. And the reminder to pray, because God actually wants to help me. And He wants to help you!

I’m going to end my message early today – to help you be grateful and joyful; but before I do, take a look at the rest of this chapter in Philippians. Paul has a paragraph with attitude advice. He says, “14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.”
Do everything without grumbling or arguing. I am greatly encouraged by the fact that these Christians in 1st century Philippi really were no better than any church in 21st century anywhere. This is Paul’s most joy-filled letter, but even these good friends require a little wrist-slapping admonition – don’t grumble any more, and stop that arguing! A little later he even names names.
Have you heard the slogan, “If you love what you do for a living, you never have to work a day in your life!”? In everything, love what you’re doing; and it becomes play instead of work.

And then, the rest of this passage is Paul thanking the Philippian Church for their friendship and Paul passing the love of friends back and forth. I read somewhere that Paul mentions over 100 individuals by name in his letters. He was a man who made deep friends, and knew how to help others do the same.
And it always has to do with allowing God to do His work in and through us.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the Heidelberg Catechism, and the wonderful way it proclaims the Gospel and disciples Christians. Remember Q&A 1? What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
This same catechism teaches us how to work out our salvation, how to allow God to do His work in us. The catechism teaches that the key to this kind of success is in being grateful. I have not gotten permission to use these people’s names in today’s sermon, so I won’t – but we have a number of folks who happily and readily serve in almost any manner of ways – because they live in a world of gratitude and joy. Yes, there are others who do a lot of work, but insist on getting credit and complain about how much they do.
Which ones do you think honor God better? Which ones follow Christ with more obedience?
The Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 90 talks about cultivating this gratitude in our lives. Craig Barnes, president at Princeton Theological Seminary, says this, “The catechism describes our gratitude as ‘a love and delight to live according to the will of God’ (Q&A 90). The more grateful we are, the more we delight in the will of God. … this life-altering gratitude is so much more than an attitude or theological commitment. It must be grounded in specific acts of praises.”

Work out your salvation in fear and trembling is our challenge – not based on our abilities or even our endurance, but based solely on our relationship with God through the gift of His Son Jesus Christ our Savior – our only comfort in life and in death – who does the work in us and through us.

If you, like me, find yourself dreading another meeting or phone call or sermon, then heed Paul’s working solution – allow God to work in you, and re-discover the joy and gratitude of one who walks and works with God Almighty.

You, O Lord, have placed Your hand upon us. We need not run from You in shame. You, O Christ, have placed Your life within us. Our lives will not end in isolation or obscurity. You, O Holy Spirit, are nurturing Your passion within us. Turn us from vanity and reckless desire. Father, Son, and Spirit, we give You thanks and praise. Amen.

Resources:
Ortberg, John; The Me I Want to Be; Zondervan; Grand Rapids, MI; 2009; P. 81, Kindle edition.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 447.